Tech Comm’s Obsession with Novices has to Stop

Novice and Expert keys

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Once upon a time (sometime in the 80’s) everyone in the tech business was a novice. Novice tech writers wrote for novice users about novice products created by novice developers employed by novice¬†entrepreneurs (most of whom, apparently, had recently dropped out of Harvard).

There were no conventions about how any of this stuff was supposed to work. No one even knew what the business model was for software, let alone what the standard conventions should be for how anything should work in software or in hardware. As the popular saying of the time went, if it isn’t documented, it isn’t a feature. read more

The Real Docs Need is Decision Support

One of the most important tools of modern business is the decision support system. Such systems can be complex and even exotic, but at its heart, a decision support system is simply a system that provides people with the information they need to make decisions.

Clicking an Add as Friend button

The question that matters to users is not usually how to press the button, but what will happen if they do press it, and whether they should press it or not. The real task problems users have are usually with decisions, not operations.
Image courtesy of Master isolated images / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

In tech comm, we don’t talk much about decision support. We talk about task support. We frame our jobs as providing the information people need to complete their tasks. Unfortunately, what we often provide by way of task support are simply procedures for operating machines. But, as I have argued before, a task is not a procedure. In many cases, the support people need to complete their tasks is not information on how to operate machines, but information to support their decision making. Its not “how do I push the button,” but “when and why should I push the button and what happens if I do.” read more